A Fierce Green Fire

Spirituality & Health Magazine
reviewed by Bilge Ebiri

Directed by Mark Kitchell

Mark Kitchell’s documentary about the history of the environmental movement is both absorbing and surprisingly thorough, starting with the origins of the Sierra Club and taking us through recent struggles over climate change. We’ve seen a lot of environmental documentaries over the years, both notable and not so notable. A Fierce Green Fire does have plenty of immediacy, but it also takes a broader view and focuses on educating us: Just who are the people behind the movement? it asks. (How many of today’s environmentalists, for example, know about Chico Mendes’s efforts in Brazil, and his tragic fate?) So, we get insightful interviews with Stewart Brand, creator of the Whole Earth Catalog; the controversial direct-action pioneer Paul Watson, who claims he doesn’t work for people but “for whales”; Lois Gibbs, the very public face of the Love Canal toxic-dumping controversy in the 1970s; and many others. But while the film does feature plenty of talking-heads interviews, it’s rarely static, utilizing a wealth of archival footage and, of course, lots of gorgeous shots of the wonders of nature.

The results are beautiful, fascinating, and, understandably, messy. Not all of these people want the same thing, and sometimes their needs conflict with one another. There’s nothing wrong with that: The world of environmentalism, the film seems to be arguing, is diverse, complex, and deep. By embracing this idea, Kitchell’s film paints a vivid, emotional portrait of a movement that’s varied and very much alive—one into which individuals from all walks of life should be able to find their own way.

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